Category Archives: California

Book Club: The Women

Read The Women by T.C. Boyle. It’s really good. End of book review and on to the juicy stuff.

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Boyle’s tale of Frank Lloyd Wright’s relationships with women is intriguing — a pastiche of story-telling based on solid factual research.

I’ve been a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright for many years. I’ve visited his home and studio in Oak Park many times and I’m always happy when a visitor wants to take the tour. I’ve been intrigued by his story and the depth of his magnetism. It’s kind of amazing how this arrogant and self-centered man was able to inspire love and almost slavish devotion from the people around him.

Sometimes what I write doesn’t end up where I intended it to go when I began.

Clearly this is more than a book review because I’m a history nerd.

After we read Loving Frank in book club, we decided to do a pilgrimage to Spring Green, Wisconsin, to visit Taliesin and I wrote about it here. We have also visited Taliesin West in Arizona, Falling Waters in Pennsylvania, and the local FLW shrines, including Unity Temple.

When I read books about Frank Lloyd Wright and his designs, his houses become characters on their own.

Blue Balliett’s YA novel, The Wright 3, is a good example of this. Wright’s Robie House near the University of Chicago is the setting of this novel, and I couldn’t wait to go visit it after reading the story. The physical connection I get to the houses through the text is hard to resist and apparently I’m not the only one. If you’re going to be in the area with your children, read the book together and then take the house tour designed to connect with the book — or just do it yourself cause it’s worth it!

Given all that history, it’s not surprising that I just lapped up The Women hungrily. Told through the reflections of a fictional Japanese apprentice, T.C. Boyle has given us another intense visit with Wright and the women who loved him. He traces the stories of Wright’s three wives and his mistress backwards, and as the story unfolds, questions are answered and links become clear. It’s a difficult narrative construct to do effectively, but it didn’t drive me too crazy. I wish there had been more about first wife Kitty and how she really coped with Wright’s desertion of her.

I’m a firm believer in the power of chance and there are several chance encounters that led to the writing of this book and the writing of this post.

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T.C. Boyle bought and renovated Wright’s George C. Stewart house (1910)

T.C. Boyle is the author of many successful books as well as being a professor at UCLA, and apparently he had enough money to purchase and renovate Wright’s George C. Stewart House in Montecito, California. In this interview, he talks about how his fascination with Wright grew after living in one of his homes. I can truly see how that would happen.

On our recent trip to California, we visited the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley. I was deep into The Women, visualizing FLW striding around in his cape and hat, and suddenly, there he was on the wall of the Claremont. Of course I took a photo (as I do incessantly).

Wright loved the Claremont, and designed a wedding chapel for the hotel in 1957 at age 88. It was never built, but its design was organic yet modern, as all of his work was.

In researching the wedding chapel design, I ran across the website of this Italian architect, who has redesigned Wright’s work using specific design principles.

I’m a great reader, but a lousy book reviewer, as you can see.

I get too caught up in the human stories surrounding authors and their subjects to ever make a living writing book reviews. I’m glad you stuck with me through this visit with Frank Lloyd Wright, and I highly recommend The Women if you have been intrigued by my story today.

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Food Cult: Dinner at Plum

One of the best parts of traveling is meeting new restaurants. For Tech Kid’s birthday, we went to a highly touted Oakland restaurant, Plum. I’m still struggling with my cameras, but I just had to share photos of the inventive work of Plum’s chefs.

Beet Boudin Noir, with brussel sprouts and turnip

Avocado Risotto with pistachio,lemon, and cucumber

Raviolini with mixed milk ricotta, nettles, and green shallots

One perfect raviolini

Samples from the Plum Charcuterie with pickled vegetables and violet mustard. I’ll leave you to guess what’s in these delectable morsels.

King Salmon with fava, potato, radish, and vandouvan (curry-like spice blend).

Roasted Pork and Belly with young chard, new onion, and mustard

I’m not sure what this wonderful dessert was — it was ordered specially for the birthday boy.

This lonely little turnip is all that was left on the plate when we finished this sumptuous and scrumptious meal.

If you are visiting Oakland, I highly encourage you to seek out this very good restaurant (make reservations!). The portions are on the small side, but every bite is full of interest.

Only in California

Writing Workshop: My Drink(s) of Choice

Mama Kat asked me today, “How did your love affair with Coffee begin?” That’s a really good question, but ironically, a funny thing happened on the way to being sixty. I forget when I drank my first coffee, but I still remember that I pretty much can’t live without it now.

My husband is partly to blame for my addiction to coffee. We’ve become connoisseurs of the different Starbucks blends — venti, dark, and black is my order. He prefers decaf and I live for the kick of caffeine. We shop carefully for whole beans, always on the lookout for a sale. When we travel, he scouts out the Starbucks locations on his smart phone or maps them out on his computer before we leave. We plan our driving breaks around the visits to Starbucks, knowing they will have good coffee, won’t sneer because we bring in our own reusable mugs, and we can depend on clean bathrooms.

At the Sissinghurst Castle Farmhouse bed and breakfast in England where we stayed during the summer of 2011, we were always served coffee in a sprightly little press pot, so I decided to buy one for Christmas. I searched and searched for a coffee press large enough to satisfy our coffee habit. I wanted to make two fresh mugs for each of us, with one being decaf and the other caf. I hoped the freshly pressed coffee would satisfy our coffee hunger and that we wouldn’t just continue to drink the dregs of the big coffeemaker pot out of habit. That hasn’t worked out so well, as we are still using our big Gevalia coffeemaker and are each still sacrificing for the other — to caf or not to caf is an important question in our thirty-year marriage.

The second part of Mama Kat’s prompt is easier to remember. She continued the question by providing an alternative — “Or Diet Coke or Tea or whatever your beverage of choice might be.” My true beverage of choice is the nectar of the gods, a good wine. I blame it all on moving to California in 1974 and discovering wineries, and my love for wine has progressed from the Boone’s Farm Apple Wine, Mateus, and Lancers of our college days to the fine wines from around the world to which we have access (and can better afford) today.

One of our most recent trips to a winery was in southeast England, where some amazing wine is made. Our host at Sissinghurst Castle Farmhouse is also the CEO of Chapel Downs Winery, and I blogged about our visit here.

The bookends of my day are a strong jolt of joe in the morning and slow sips of liquid terroir in the evening. What’s not to love?

I’m linked up to Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop today. Please stop by and spread some comment love around to my friends.

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First Husband Wine

We had book club at our house on Monday night. Book club with our group requires that most of us actually read the book, but there’s also food and wine. On another day I’ll tell you about the fabulous gluten-free dinner we prepared…

When the club left, I noticed that our decent chardonnay had been finished first, followed by the well-rated jug cabernet. Almost all of the jug pinot grigio was gone, too. All that was left was the lonely first husband wine. Even our “mature” drinkers in the group didn’t touch the white zinfandel.

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Unless you’re the people who were with me during that fateful tour of the Beringer winery, you probably are scratching your head about “first husband wine.” I have to insert a commercial here, however. The Beringer property in St. Helena is stunningly beautiful, and we had the best tour guide ever.

California White Zinfandel is kind of the step-child of rose wines. French rose makers don’t take it seriously, wine connoisseurs turn their noses up at it, and it’s so cheap to buy that it can’t possibly be any good, right? Yet some people just love it!

And now for the punchline…

Our very funny guide at the winery told us that Beringer White Zinfandel was a “first husband wine” — it needs to be used up while it’s still young and fresh. And then move on to a more mature vintage.

I didn’t say it; don’t shoot the messenger. You have to admit it made you giggle, though.

Apparently I’m okay with it, too. As I type, I’m drinking some of that lonely little bottle as inspiration for this post. 🙂 And darling husband is still on his first wife, 30 years later.